Accessibility and Style: Creating a Functional, Stylish Bathroom for People with Limited Mobility

Accessible bathrooms aren’t only for those with disabilities: people in all stages of life can benefit. Certainly as we age, bathrooms that are safe and easy to navigate become increasingly necessary, but young children, pregnant moms and people who’ve been temporarily waylaid by injury can benefit too.

Here’s what you should know about creating a safe and sophisticated bathroom space where accessibility and style coexist.

Safety First

Whether they’re seeking to age in place or an elderly parent is moving in, there are many reasons why a customer might looking for an accessible bathroom. Before thinking about how to make that space stylish, its best to understand how you can make the space safe.

Bathrooms are in fact one of the most dangerous places in the home, especially for the elderly and people with limited mobility. As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, an older adult is treated for a fall every 11 seconds in the United States.  And it’s common for such falls to occur in the bathroom, according to Easterseals Crossroads, a program that provides technology to people with disabilities. This is due to a variety of hazards, including slippery floors, too-small spaces, and bending and lifting in the bathroom.

Daily Caring, a resource for caregivers, says that falls in the bathroom can also be caused by balance issues, weakness and cognitive issues. Making bathrooms more accessible can accommodate these needs to prevent falls and help loved ones preserve their dignity.

Quick, easy tips for a more accessible bathroom include removing all rugs and adding stick-on lights to illuminate the path to the bathroom at night. Similarly, relatively inexpensive non-slip flooring can be installed. Residential real estate reporter Phillip Molnar says that rubber flooring options are typically less than $3 a tile, and can help reduce the number of falls in the bathroom.

walk-in shower

Specializations

It may also be helpful to know the safety accreditations and standards associated with bathroom accessibility. For instance, Dan Bawden, owner and CEO at home building company Legal Eagle Contractors, is a CAPS, or certified aging in place specialist. According to AgeInPlace, the CAPS program “is designed to teach the business management, customer service and technical information a business needs to serve the needs of seniors or elderly.”

Many builders and design professionals like Bawden are obtaining CAPS certifications to meet a growing demand for accessible bathrooms. Bathrooms that meet CAPS standards focus on more than universal design, custom-fitting the space to fit both current and future circumstances. This allows the design to support the needs of everyone who uses the bathroom as they age in place. Plus, Bowden adds that having a CAPS accredited bathroom has been known to increase a home’s value.

Uniting Function with Style

Making an accessible bathroom safe is one thing: making it stylish is another.

If the design is for an older person, it’s quite likely that they already have decor they’d like to retain in their bathroom as a continuation of their home. Queen City Homecare explains that this is one of the many benefits of choosing aging in place over a nursing home. From the curtains to the wallpaper, the home of an elderly person already has great character and style that works for them. Fortunately, the range of options for accessibility features makes it possible to enhance and support these existing themes.

Grab Bars

For example, Independent Living editor Frances Leckie explains that today, grab bars come in a variety of shapes, styles and colors. She says that this range includes bright powdered primary shades, polished chrome and aluminum. Additionally, bar shapes have evolved to become more ergonomic. From wavy bars to ribbed coatings, these elements make bars easier to hold on to while adding a sleeker finish.

Griswold Home Care provides guidance as to where to place grab bars. The company, which provides assisted living services, says that grab or anchor bars should be placed in and around the shower and tub as well as by the toilet. It’s important to advise customers to use solid screws when installing these bars.

grab bars

Showers and Baths

Traditional showers can prove especially difficult for people with limited mobility. Fortunately, new technology advancements are adding both innovation and pizzazz to accessible bathrooms.

AKW, a company that provides comfortable, stylish and accessible bathroom solutions, launched the world’s first electric shower, equipped with bluetooth and an iphone app. This device looks sleek and minimal when installed in a shower, yet it also provides maximum functionality. An electric shower eliminates the need to manually turn the shower on and off, change water temperatures or adjust pressure – all of which can provide additional obstacles for those with limited movement.

Shower curbs and tub walls can provide a challenge for people who struggle with balance. Even a small trip on a shower curb can cause a serious injury. A curbless, walk-in shower eliminates these obstructions. Bath Fitter NW adds that curbless showers increase accessibility for people using wheelchairs, as they can enter and exit smoothly. Curbless showers are also a great minimalist design choice.

Bath Seating

Seating in a shower or tub can serve as an additional safety precaution. Anneliese Peterson, vice president of operations at Walker Methodist senior living home, explains that bath seats are usually easy to install. She also adds that they should be accompanied by grab bars

If you think that shower seats have to be gray, unsightly and made from plastic, think again. In Better Homes and Gardens, writer Anne Wilson rounded up 15 stylish seats that can be added to walk in showers. She includes a built-in shower seat made from varying shades of marble and stone tile: a sturdy option that blends in with the rest of the space. She also shows how a built-in shower seat can be placed under a window for a luxurious bathroom experience. These options, accompanied by grab bars, are a perfect example of how style and form can blend together.

Toilets

In addition to putting grab bars around the toilet, it can also be made safer by fitting it with a raised seat. Visiting Angels, which provides home care services for the elderly, says that this prevents overexertion. Bending down and getting back up can be extremely difficult for an aging individual or for someone living with a disability. A raised toilet seat makes for easier access, adds safety, and the grab bars provide additional support.

On the Free Wheelin’ Travel blog, Karin Willison explains which bathroom elements are most accessible for her life in a wheelchair. She says a hand held shower head is a great accompaniment to a shower bench. She also says that she prefers a wet bath (similar to a roll-in or walk-in shower, except with more drainage) because it’s easier to access.

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